Tag Archives: Healthy Parenting

Why Teaching Our Kids Self-Advocacy Is So Dang Important!

From The Author’s Photo Library

If your kids are like mine, they grew up with plenty of what they needed. Well, don’t get me wrong. Ours had plenty of chores to do. They volunteered a ton. They had lots of homework and extracurricular activities that required personal responsibility and time management. But still, we did a lot of stuff for them. I made doctor’s appointments, negotiated the bills, cooked hundreds of meals, which they gladly consumed, washed endless loads of laundry, and goodness, the “taxi” driving we did for them. Meg Meeker, MD, a renowned pediatrician and parenting expert said, “Never do for your kids what they can do themselves.” I think that is great advice. Why? Because as parents, we already, inherently complete a ton of tasks for our children that frankly they can’t do for themselves, at first. But, if we never let them do anything on their own, (age and stage appropriate), we are doing them a ginormous disservice. Who knows? Maybe even putting their life at risk. Scary stuff I know.

It became magnanimously apparent to me, this need for teaching our children self-advocacy, when we started parenting young adults.

Example 1: Recently, our youngest daughter, a college sophomore, was immersed in a very difficult situation at her job. The truth was written on the wall in plain language. She needed to confront a superior about some serious issues involving the amount of work and hours she and her co-workers were putting in. And she did. But she vacillated for several weeks before calling that meeting, while many of her young co-workers waited in the wings to see the outcome of her courage. 

That’s the irony of self-advocacy. Sometimes it just effects the one taking a stand. Still, other times, self-advocacy impacts a whole lot of other people.

Example #2 My middle daughter recently had a serious of doctors’ appointments necessary to treat a serious dermatological issue she was having. Newsflash. Over 18-year old’s have to handle all their own medical needs, appointments, and prescriptions. Because, well, they are of legal age to do so. No one is going to talk to Mom or Dad without a special release of information on file. It doesn’t matter if they are in college and still on your insurance plan. Same for the bursar’s office at their respective college. Doesn’t matter that you are dropping 1000’s of dollars into an account in your child’s name each semester. You don’t have an automatic right anymore to know a thing about their tuition bills or their grades. So, when my girl left the doctor without gathering important information concerning her follow up appointments, logistical chaos ensued. It was a hard lesson learned about the need to advocate for herself.  

The truth is I know adults much older than my 19 and 21-year-old who would never undertake this type of necessary confrontation. They won’t confront a boss with professionalism and confidence to discuss ongoing problems. And they don’t ask the doctor appropriate questions that concern their own health and welfare. Is it such a surprise then, when our young adults struggle with self-advocacy?

In the current pop culture that our children and young adults live and work, it has become more and more of a challenge to expect our kids to advocate for themselves. 

Why?

I’m going to submit two highly plausible reasons for your consideration.

1 Because we DO and we BUY way too much for them when they are growing up. We do stuff that is far outside the scope of what parents should and should not do for their kids. We speak for them when we shouldn’t. Teachers, coaches, youth ministry leaders, doctors, restaurant staff, etc. We “handle” all of their personality conflicts for them! Furthermore, we often spend ridiculous amounts of money on them, (whether it is a special occasion or not), just because they want it? Year after year of that, and boom, you get a young adult whose appetite for self-indulgence can only be satiated with immediate gratification. He doesn’t know how to stand up for himself because his parents never allowed him to experience disappointment. If your kid has no framework for disappointment, that is going to make the real world an overwhelming place for them to survive. They will be out of our house sooner or later. Parents that is not the place or time we want our kids to begin negotiating disappointment.

2 It has become less culturally acceptable to teach our kids prevention. Prevention has become a dirty word for blaming the victim. Which is utter nonsense. For instance, it is critical that we teach our children self-advocacy when it comes to sexual activity or mixing drinking with their social life. We want to equip our girls and boys for what’s heading their way before it clobbers them like an oncoming train. I want my girl to have the tools necessary to maximize her safety and to avoid becoming a victim. That means teaching her prudent ways to manage her social media. It means teaching her that she is worth more than a “like” on a stupid phone. It means teaching her the importance of moderation in drinking alcohol, and the dangers of being drunk and incoherent in social settings. It means teaching her that indiscriminate sexual activity could inflict deep physical and emotional wounds that will leave an indelible mark on her life. We should understand that teaching our kids prevention, means that we are teaching them both self-respect and self-advocacy in a culture that is extremely shallow and unforgiving.

  • Both now and/or later, our kids need to be able to:
  • Order their own food without being rude to a waiter.
  • Have a professional and grace filled confrontation with micro-managing bosses.
  • Talk to their spouse about their personal needs in that relationship.
  • Negotiate a doctor bill that does not sync with the corresponding explanation of benefits from the insurance company.
  • Say NO! when they mean NO!
  • Do for themselves all of the stuff that we have done for them all of these years, laundry, cooking, driving and more.

And they need to understand that they can advocate for not only themselves, but when and where necessary, they can intercede for another person.

Remember the “Me Too Movement”? 

Of course, you do. We all do. Especially us moms. Our hearts broke as the respondents increased day by day by the hundreds of thousands. This sad state of affairs should inspire us as parents to teach our girls and our boys with gazelle intensity how to advocate for themselves and others. Hopefully, all that pain and suffering has not been lost on us. How many fewer, precious souls would be hash tagging “Me Too,” had they been taught more about healthy boundaries in their life and the paramount importance of self-advocacy? 

We can and should equip our kids with the life skills needed for engaging in healthy conflict resolution and confrontation. We can and should equip our kids to speak up for themselves and others, not with arrogance or rudeness, but with professionalism, grace, and confidence. We can and should arm our children with the necessary tools for maximizing their safety and to avoid becoming a victim of someone else’s evil intentions.

We have a choice.

We can emphasize the importance of self-advocacy when raising our children. OR we can hope for the best without teaching these life skills. Clearly, there is no fool proof way of ensuring our child’s safety or success in life. But we can do better than the status quo. We can do better than what has been done up until now. We must. Our child’s physical and emotional health may be hanging in the balance.

How Not To Hover And Why It’s So Dangerous

Photo Creds: Emma Gulitti

Just when I think the term helicopter parent has been exhausted, then I meet another one. Before we talk about the dangers of hovering and how not to be so over-controlling, I think it is important to address why we might be tempted to be so in the first place.

Possible reasons for being a hovering parent, and there could be overlap:

  • You want a different life for them than what you had growing up.
  • You have trauma in your own past. You were hurt by someone you thought you could trust.
  • We are not risk takers ourselves. So why encourage that in our kids?
  • You are a control freak.
  • Your anxiety level is so high you don’t possibly know how you can keep your kid safe.
  • You believe the world owes you, so therefore, they owe your kid as well.
  • Any of the above edges out common sense parenting, leaving hovering as your primary parenting tool.

Let’s be clear. There’s a difference between advocating and hovering. Recently I knew of a young boy who called his mom to pick him up so he didn’t have to go to his sporting practice.  He wasn’t sick. He just didn’t want to go. She did it. She picked him up. That’s hovering. I listened to a birthday prank on the radio this morning. The DJ told the father on the phone that the game system he had purchased for his son for Christmas was on back order. With no other provocation, the dad dropped two expletives 60 seconds into the phone call about how he needed that game system for his son by Christmas. That’s hovering. (And rude). A couple of weeks ago, a young and brand new teacher friend of mine sent a note home to a mama that her daughter had used permanent markers to draw all over the class room bean bag chairs. The chairs were ruined. Mom sent a note back and said “I thought they were supposed to get three warnings.” That’s hovering. How many parents have stormed into public school buildings angrily demanding to know why their kid didn’t get the part or the position or the award he should have. That’s hovering. At the park, I saw a toddler fall down, suffer no physical damage whatsoever, other than wounded pride, and his mom went busting over to rescue him. The rescue consumed at least 5 full minutes and led to the conclusion of play time at the park for the day. That’s hovering. Someone showed up at her son’s job interview. (Literally, this happened). How many times have we given into temptation to shower our college kids with cash at the drop of a hat or been tempted to usurp their abilities to take care of their own college business? That’s hovering. Maybe you over involve yourself in your adult child’s business. You just can’t afford to let them live their own life. They might mess it up. That’s hovering.

As I already mentioned, there is a difference between advocating and hovering. We can and should be advocates for our children. And even our young adults. But did you know that advocating for your child doesn’t just happen in a necessary conversation with another individual about something that concerns your kid? No not even. We advocate best for our kids in conversations we have with them. (Parenting tip # 23 in my book.) Instructional conversations, life giving conversations. Conversations about expectations and consequences. If your daughter attends college 15 hours away from you and goes to an ATM machine at night by herself with an unsavory character lurking nearby, you would be at your advocating best if you were there in the parking lot with her at the time of the event right? Yes for sure. But the conversation you had with her years prior that warned her of the dangers of going to ATM machines alone at night, that was you advocating for her in the anticipation of events yet to happen. Yes, conversations we have with our kids by the truck load-that’s us advocating for them. Newsflash. They are going to be out doing their life away from us, at some point or another, whether we advocated for them in this way or not. If we spent those years hovering rather than advocating, well, it could be a rough ride. If you want your kids to be productive, positive, empowered adults, then when they are young quit bailing them out. (Parenting Tip #10)

The difference between advocating and hovering is measurable and quantifiable. Over controlled kids are more anxious, misguided and have low conflict resolution skills. This equates to problems in the classroom and in personal relationships, perhaps sadly, for years to come. In an article in Psychology today dated August, 2016 by Nathan H. Lents, Ph.D., Dr. Lent states:

“Helicopter parents that seek to shield their children from all forms of adversity are not doing them any favors. Physical exertion, confrontations on the playground, competitions with real winners and real losers, getting minor bumps and bruises, and even periodically experiencing fear are all inducers of acute stress. Falling off of a swing, for example, teaches a kid a variety of lessons that just can’t be learned any other way. If kids are protected from all possible risks when the stakes are low, how will they navigate risk-taking when they are older and the stakes are much higher? While we should all strive to protect children from chronic stress, depriving them of healthy forms of safe stress may leave them unable to deal with stress as adults.”

Kids, whose parents are healthy advocates, are typically better adjusted emotionally. They can navigate disappointment in life, because they have been allowed to be disappointed and even at times, bored. They have not been routinely bailed out. They have had to use their imaginations when they didn’t get every single new thing they wanted for Christmas or their birthday. They are kids, whose parents are not perfect, but neither do they lead lives defined by past hurt, trauma or failure. Advocating means these parents choose not to teach or discipline or love their kids through the lenses of comparison, bank accounts, fear, entitlement or bitterness. Parents who advocate for their children verses hovering realize that their child’s love for them is not fragile. They know that just because they discipline them for falling out of line, doesn’t mean their kid will fall out of love with them. Advocating versus hovering. It’s critical that we can distinguish between the two. It can make a world of difference in the adult your child becomes down the road.

Five great Habits for getting your kids to listen.

Unfortunately there are no easy 5 step plans to make your kids listen well. But there are some tried and true habits we can employ. And they involve kids of all ages. These methods work at virtually every age, but the younger your kids are when you get started, the better they work  when your kids are older. Each of these habits have demonstrated success over and over by a whole passel of parents who have gone before you. Furthermore, there are wonderful (extra) parenting perks to be had with each habit besides just getting your kids to listen. I call that “Advantage Parent.”  So let’s get started.

Habit #1  Quit allowing them to interrupt.  Our littles all the have the same middle name: Interrupter. If you’re in the middle of a conversation with someone else, take their hand and place it on your arm or shoulder and squeeze it. You can even wink at them for extra affirmation.  But all the time you are holding their hand so they know you’ve not forgotten them. When you have an opening with the other person or a good pausing place, you can look at your little and say “Okay what was it you wanted?” The whole while you where holding their hand gently against your arm, or face or at your side. This probably won’t work the first time you do it. The key is patience, and diligence in training. If they are old enough (3 or 4), you could probably even have  a conversation with them about how this works before incorporating it as a new habit. AND you can practice it at home while conversing with your spouse.  The more you practice this at home, the better it works when you utilize this technique inside or outside of your home visiting with friends. I found this to be a conversation lifesaver when my girls were little. Advantage Parent:  It simultaneously teaches your child to be respectful of others while also validating your child’s needs.

Habit #2 Quit threatening. Do what you said you were going to do the minute they disobey.  If you say, “The next time you use the toy to hit your brother, I am taking away the toy,” then the very next time they use the toy as a weapon against their sibling, immediately take it away. Threatening does nothing but teach them not to listen. Without a doubt, the minute the offender breaks the rule, and you say “That’s it; the toy is gone,” he or she is going to explode into cries of remorse: “I’m sorry” or “I won’t do it again.” Don’t fall for that. They should’ve been so sincere the first time you gave them fair warning. Threatening just adds to the chaos. Advantage Parent: Your kids quickly learn from a “follow through” kind of parent two very important things. 1  Your plans cannot be thwarted by their drama.  And 2 You are an honest person. They can trust you. Both of these things will be important when you are establishing appropriate boundaries in the teenage years.

Habit #3  Make deposits into their emotional bank accounts.(Concept borrowed from Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People)  In moments, minutes or possibly hours apart from those necessary blocks of time devoted to instruction, discipline, and daily tasks, we must spend quality and quantity time with our child. If we only feed them, cloth them, and instruct them, but never allocate time just being with them, validating their ideas, playing games with them, going to coffee (or tea time), or reading books together, the chances of them being good listeners are very slim. It’s all about credibility. Our human nature cries out loudly “Why should I listen to someone who doesn’t care about me personally?”  Advantage Parent:  We build trust with our children that is reciprocal. Life is more fun. It’s exciting what we learn about our children when we share our time this way. We build up their self- confidence and self-esteem. They make better relationship choices because they know they are loved and cared for at home. 

Habit #4 Be hospitable.  When you invite someone over to your home or out to dinner, and your kids are invited too, they learn to listen. Because when you invite other people into the intimate spaces and places of your life, learning about those people is inevitable. And the way that happens is to ask questions and listen. Our girls learned a heap about other people’s lives, their fascinating jobs, and their spiritual journeys, all at dinner around our table. We just listened. And naturally, our guests asked us questions too. So there’s this fun exchange of information that propels and enriches the conversation.  It all starts with a desire to be hospitable. It ends with our kids being better listeners. Advantage Parent: We teach our kids the value of community and hospitality. They meet new people who can have a significant and positive influence in their lives for years to come. We make life long friends. We teach our kids the power of personal versus electronic communication.

Habit #5 Model good listening skills for them.  As adults, hopefully we already know how to be active listeners. In other words, we actually listen to what another person is saying to us before we draw conclusions, make judgement or offer responses. Our body language is also a huge indicator of our attention to another person’s words. If our kids see or hear us constantly at odds with their other parent, or if they see us monopolize every conversation we are in, chances are  we are teaching them how to be a poor listener. Any other methods  we utilize to teach them good listening skills will be null and void, if we cannot ourselves model good listening skills.  Advantage Parent: Our kids learn that they are not the center of the universe. They also learn conflict resolution skills and how to bring change to a hurting and broken world. 

We all want our children to listen to us.  Toddlers, tweens, teens, and young adults. We want them to listen when we say “Quit using the toy to hit your brother,” and also when we say, “Don’t drink and drive.”  And of course we want them to listen to us when we say “I love you.” It’s imperative that we cultivate good listening skills in our kids. In my book I talk about having “Life Saving Conversations” with your children. If we have not taught them them how to listen, they will struggle with grasping the importance of those life saving conversations. They will tune them out. The ones regarding their safety, security, relationship building, reconciling conflict, or a whole host of other important discussions that require their listening ears. 

Parenting With Gumption and Grit is now Available for Purchase

Finally, I have released my book, and I am happy to announce it can be purchased online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Target. This project has been a long time in the making. It is something I am very passionate about, and I have a deep desire to  help equip  parents with the tools necessary for raising positive kids in a culture that is not always so.  Take a chance on this easy but powerful read. You won’t regret it. 

 

Shout out to the producer and videographer of my first promotional video, my wonderful daughter, Kate Ann.